Jem Cohen is a filmmaker, photographer, teacher, and activist whose career has been inexorably intertwined with music—from his earliest years forging an artistic identity in the DC punk scene, to the non-traditional “documentaries” about bands like Fugazi and Smoke that put him on the larger cultural map, to his long term relationships with musicians Patti Smith (an executive producer of Cohen’s recent, rapturously reviewed feature film Museum Hours) and Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto, both frequent collaborators.
What he is not is a music video director. Or, as he puts it: “It was always my intention to pull ‘music videos’ as far away from being commercial promos as possible.” Still, over a long and varied career, he has made numerous short films set to the music of artistic friends and colleagues, including R.E.M, Elliot Smith, Jonathan Richman, and many, many others.
Here, in honor of Jem’s BAM mainstage debut at the BAM Harvey this Thursday with the film and music hybrid We Have an Anchor—featuring live performances by Guy Picciotto (Fugazi), Jim White (Dirty Three), T. Griffin (The Quavers), Efrim Manuel Menuck (Godspeed You! Black Emperor), Jessica Moss (Thee Silver Mt. Zion), Sophie Trudeau (Godspeed You! Black Emperor), as well as special guest vocalist Mira Billotte (White Magic)—we present one of our utterly subjective favorites: an intimate, workaday domestic and artistic portrait of rock goddess Patti Smith at her most human, set to Smith’s mesmerizing cover of Nirvana’s "Smells like Teen Spirit" (with cameos by Smith’s cats and her son Jackson):